Twelve Days of Messenger’s Blog – Day Eleven

251d4-sorrowOnto my eleventh favourite work for the year, a book that has received accolades far and wide, from the shortlist of the 2016 Best Translated Book Award, and culminating in a longlist nomination for the 2017 Dublin Literary Award. Georgi Gospodinov’s “The Physcis of Sorrow” (Translated by Angela Rodel) sides with the fate of the Minotaur, he argues that he is merely a victim, he had no choice in being born and banished to the underground, he had to eat, and he was trapped in a labyrinth.

A book I thoroughly enjoyed for its humour, its labyrinth style and the cryptic puzzle style. A challenging but rollicking adventure into Bulgarian literature.

My review used the children’s television program “My Little Pony” and an exiled Yugoslavian writer as its reference points. Here is a copy to jog your memories;

Can “My Little Pony”, a Yugoslavian living in the Netherlands, and modern Bulgarian literature have something in common? Let’s see if I can start with the Yugoslav living in the Netherlands, move through an animated children’s television program, and travel through a novel shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Enter my labyrinth, let’s hope there’s not too many dead ends.

In our contemporary society – which is highly homogenized by the global marketplace – intellectual and artistic heresy is like oxygen. Globalized culture sucks that oxygen from our mental landscape. The global marketplace pretends that it offers us a diversity of products but in fact sells us the powerful substitute of the holy ONE. Today, we get one “subversive” philosopher, one “subversive” artist, and one subversive “writer”: the global market can’t bare more than one! In other words, we get one Coca-Cola, but we believe that by consuming it we consume the whole world. Celebs are our modern prophets, whether they sell the photos of their impressive posteriors, like Kim Kardashian, or the seductive theories, like Slavoj Žižek, or millions of their books, like Haruki Murakami. I don’t have anything against Kim Kardashian or, God forbid, against the great Slavoj Žižek, or my fellow writer Haruki Murakami, but the holy ONE policy (created, ultimately, by consumers themselves) is a quite obvious sign of a society homogenizing its tastes and needs. That’s why many cultural “species” (forms, patterns, genres, practices, ideas, and cultural spaces) are disappearing. The global market standardizes our tastes, our intellectual and cultural needs. In the result, we all read one book, one Bible, one Koran, we all follow one “prophet”; we all wait in long lines to buy a new book by one writer, or in line to see the exhibition of one artist. There is a market pressure to love Him, to buy Him, and as we live in a religious world, we like to establish our modern “prophets” (in visual art, the entertainment industry, literature, film, etc.). And then we like them and respect them because everybody else likes and respects them…

Taken from “A Conversation with Dubravka Ugrešić” by Daniel Medin.

Published in “Music & Literature” Number 6

Given the history of the Minotaur in literature, you would think another work using the mythological beast as a metaphor would fit the contemporary society overflow. A writer with limited coverage in the English speaking world would not fit the profile of a “modern prophet”.

If you google the Minotaur and “popular culture” the results are astounding, wresting, anime, Batman, Doctor Who, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, Dexter, Power Rangers, Time Bandits, Inspector Gadget, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, Borges, Kubrick’s “The Shining” video games, manga, even My Little Pony.

Not every reader has studied Classical Greek Mythology, and I’m fairly confident children watching “My Little Pony” and coming across a character called “Iron Will”, half bull, half pony, who puts on an “assertiveness” seminar in a hedge maze would have no idea of the references.

For those interested in seeking out the “My Little Pony” reference it is season 2, episode 19 “Putting Your Hoof Down”, written by long term SpongeBob Square pants writer Merriwether Williams (credited with 47 episodes of SpongeBob) from a story by Charlotte Fullerton. A full stream of the “My Little Pony” episode is available on line. In the episode, besides a Minotaur in a hedge maze we have Fluttershy pony becoming ashamed of her newly learned assertiveness and being locked in a dark room. When pressed by other polite ponies about her behaviour she yells; “Iron Will is not a monster, he’s a MINOTAUR.”

In the basement of the palace in Crete, Daedalus built a labyrinth of such confounding galleries that once you went inside it you could never find the exit again. Minos locked up his family’s shame, his wife Pasiphaē’s son, in this underground labyrinth. She conceived this son by a bull send by the god Poseidon. The Minotaur – a monster with a human body and a bull’s head. Every nine years the Athenians were forced to send seven maidens and seven youths to be devoured by him. Then the hero Theseus appeared, who decided to kill the Minotaur. Without her father’s knowledge, Ariadne gave Theseus a sharp sword and a ball of string. He tied the string to the entrance and set off down the endless corridors to hunt the Minotaur. He walked and walked until he suddenly heard a terrible roar – the monster was rushing toward him with its enormous horns. A frightful battle ensued. Finally, Theseus grabbed the Minotaur by the horns and plunged his sharp sword into his chest. The monster slumped to the ground and Theseus dragged him all the way back to the entrance.

–          Ancient Greek Myths and Legends

Georgi Gospodinov’s book “The Physics of Sorrow” sides with the fate of the Minotaur, he argues that he is merely a victim, he had no choice in being born and banished to the underground, he had to eat, and he was trapped in a labyrinth. Why do the majority of references identify the Minotaur as a monster?

As well as the Minotaur, the labyrinth has also featured heavily in popular culture and not just in literature, in fact there have been thesis’ written on the subject of labyrinths and literature, one I found on-line quoting Umberto Eco, (of course Ovid), Friedrich Nietzsche, Jorge Luis Borges, on the opening pages. I’m not even going to address the labyrinth and popular culture…video games, maze runners, it’s endless.

“No one realised that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.” Victor Pelevin

But Georgi Gospodinov’s work is so much more than a design around the labyrinth motif and the Minotaur as a metaphor. A collection of short personalised views, vignettes, stories, rambling paragraphs, it is a work not easily defined, the deciphering is akin to solving a cryptic crossword, but the resultant challenge and enlightenment, once you find your way through his labyrinth of dead ends, is a very rewarding journey indeed.

Opening with a “prologue” defining seven versions of “I” (1913, 1968, always, never, not yet, 1944 and enduring nature) noting the “seven” definitions, the number of victims sent to the Minotaur, and the specific years, two preceding the two world wars and the other the year Bulgarian forces participated in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Later in the novel you will also learn of other important references to the relative years, or time periods. Each and every page contains a wealth of information that may be worth researching, or it may be just a contribution to Gospodinov’s collection of junk, a dead end in the labyrinth.

Once you get a little deeper into the book you discover that the narrator is in fact Georgi Gospodinov himself and we find that he has the ability to inhabit other people’s memories, the stories of his family, his friendships, at times the tales are written in the first-person, at other times in the third person.

I write in the first person to make sure that I’m still alive.

I write in the third person to make sure that I’m not just a projection of my own self, that I’m three-dimensional and have a body. Sometimes I nudge a glass and note with satisfaction that it falls and breaks. So I do still exist and cause consequences.

This family structure is a labyrinth itself, he inhabits his grandfather’s experiences, who was accidentally left behind at the flour mill, during World War One, as a three-year-old. We have the same grandfather visiting the fair, again alone, with a “fiver” which he uses to visit a Minotaur “there is sorrow in him, which no animal possesses.”

Just as the Minotaur is abandoned, has no childhood, lives in sorrow, this is a “novel” that explores human abandonment, the absence of childhood, and of course, as the title suggests, sorrow, the reader is led through the deep caverns (labyrinth) of the author’s mind. There are numerous times and experiences divulged, we have the exploration of growing up in Communist Bulgaria, the boredom, the absence of children, the television programs (propaganda), the training, even the sexual awakening in a repressed society. We have the author himself being exiled, or is it somebody he inhabits?

Let’s wait here for the souls of distracted readers. Somebody could have gotten lost in the corridors of these different times. Did everyone come back from the war? How about from the fair in 1925? Let’s hope we didn’t forget anyone at the mill. So where shall we set out for now? Writers shouldn’t ask such questions, but as the most hesitant and unsure among them, I’ll take that liberty. Shall we turn toward the story of the father, or continue on ahead, which in this case is backward, toward the Minotaur of childhood…I can’t offer a linear story, because no labyrinth and no story is ever linear. Are we all here? Off we go again.

Later in the novel Gospodinov becomes a purveyor of stories, within these stories he can create a childhood, he can reject abandonment, a true storyteller is one who can inhabit another’s thoughts. The labyrinth becomes less dark.

“The Physics of Sorrow” is littered with quotable quotes, philosophical observations about our planet, our very beings, as you read them you wonder, ‘is this another dead end to the labyrinth?’, however, as a whole the collection comes to a crescendo, the final clues of the cryptic puzzle fall into place, the fact that this is indeed a rare gem comes to the fore. Yes it may be a rough unpolished gem in places, that doesn’t mean it is any less precious.

There is also a hilarious, but true, section on the banality of the question “How are you?” and the phobia our writer has for being asked such, a listing of the clichéd replies, a la ‘fine thanks’, ‘hanging in there’, ‘getting by’ and a further listing of the available answers to the question. My personal favourite from the list is “I’m not”.

Experimental in style, moving through myth, fact, fiction, meta-fiction, philosophy, photographs (there are some included as well as artworks) and even noises, this is not a book for those who want a straightforward narrative style. Given the limited media coverage for this work, although being shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award will help, this wonderful book risks being another victim of our “homogenized contemporary society”. To me a work which explores the limits of fiction, another “subversive” writer I am glad the Best Translated Book Award has introduced me to.

Who knows, maybe one day there will no longer be Literature. Instead there will be literary web sites. Like those stars, still shining but long dead, the web sites will testify to the existence of past writers. There will be quotes, fragments of texts, which prove that there used to be complete texts once. Instead of readers there will be cyber space travelers who will stumble upon the websites by chance and stop for a moment to gaze at them. How they will read them? Like hieroglyphs? As we read the instructions for a dishwasher today? Or like remnants of a strange communication that meant something in the past, and was called Literature?

Taken from the Home Page of Dubravka Ugrešić’s website http://www.dubravkaugresic.com/

 

Advertisements

Moods – Yoel Hoffmann (translated by Peter Cole) – Best Translated Book Award 2016

A few years ago I bought a very colourful, heavy book called “Buddhist Offerings 365 Days” a 750 page book with a short Buddhist quote and a colour photograph (generally from Tibet) for each day of the year. The intention was to read and reflect on the quote each day, one of those grandiose ideas that lasts a week or two, however I do revisit the book from time to time for a timely quote or two, the first quote happens to be today’s (10 June), the others are just random choices:

Every event, every situation in which you may find yourself has a positive value,
even the dramas, even the tragedies, even the thunderbolt from a calm sky.
Arnaud Desjardins
It is our mind, and that alone, that chains us or sets us free.
– Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Usually we think that brave people have no fear.
The truth is that they are intimate with fear.
Pema Chödrön
Like all reflective quotes the act of pondering what is deemed as ancient wisdom permeates and can leave you with a feeling of becoming wise simply by contemplating somebody else’s musings. Unlike a novel, or even a short story, the very short form can leave itself open to many interpretations and the relationship between the writer and the reader is more along the lines of a passing “punch in the face” (immediate and extreme but quickly forgotten) or, at the other extreme, a shadowy brush that somehow lingers for longer than the relationship itself and comes back to haunt you when least expected.
Yoel Hoffmann’s “Moods” (translated by Peter Cole) is made up of 191 short musings on human emotions…moods. And each and every section impacts the reader in different ways, reflecting moods, emotions, temperaments.
In the room, the French woman held out a hand (one of the two she had) and took the thousand-franc bill, as one takes the wine and wafer from a priest. (from [5])
A forty-watt bulb (elsewhere I’ve called it an electric pear) lit up the bed but the picture of the Virgin (and Child) stood outside the cone of light like an omen. (from [6])
A book that would have been extremely difficult to translate with references to sounds, specific words, iambic, for example, taken from [28]
In Japanese the back is senaka. Senaka, we think, is the perfect word for it. More accurate than for instance, back, or Rücken.
However you really need to look at the Kanji characters for the word “senaka” to understand the perfection of the word…I’ve replicated it here… 背中
A stunning work, each of the 191 sections being shards of a broken mirror, they capture the everyday moments, the obscure, the memories, the reflections of a small fragment of a life, you do not have the full picture a full picture is not able to be formed. Don’t try to decipher the collection, just like you cannot decipher human existence;
This book is a book of moods. We could call it The Book of Moods.
Now we’re filled with love, and now it’s hatred. Sometimes we hate things we’ve loved or love things we’ve hated, and there is no end to it. (from [54])
An emotional rollercoaster moving through a raft of “moods” within a single page, this is not a book you can read in a single setting, a book that you need to contemplate, allow it to inhabit your core, chew over, re-read, meditate upon the concepts. A Zen master who speaks Hebrew? Hoffmann is a professor of Japanese poetry, Buddhism and philosophy at the University of Haifa in Israel, with his translation of “The Sound of One Hand Clapping” being released later this year as well as compiling, editing and commentating on the collection “Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death”. With six other books published by New Directions since 1998 I feel inadequate that I haven’t discovered his work before now!

It is not only the everyday that is contemplated or explored here, we also have musings on the art of writing itself;
We’re asking ourselves what the point of this book is or of books in general.
We’ve never seen books classified by genre. That is, we’ve seen them classified, but not correctly. What’s the point of classifying books as fiction or contemplative literature, for instance, when fiction is part and parcel of contemplation and contemplation is entirely a matter of fiction?
Or take, for instance, science books. These aren’t stories? Accurate ones. But stories nonetheless. Or the distinction between biographies and novels. Is there a biography that isn’t a novel? Or a novel that isn’t the story of a life?
If book are going to be classified by genre, it should be done in an entirely different manner. First, once has to distinguish between happy books and sad books. Not books that make one happy or make one sad. Happy books, plain and simple. A book that can laugh or smile or cry. The book itself. The reader can behave however he likes. (from [114])
As an aside this book is classified as 1. Psychological fiction. 2. Experimental fiction, Jewish.
One of the standouts of the Best Translated Book Award shortlist, a book that I thought would be in serious contention for the main prize (don’t get me wrong Yuri Herrera’s “Signs Preceding the End of the World” (translated by Lisa Dillman) is a fine work indeed and a worthy winner, in my eyes this work would have caused a few debates amongst the judges), one that any readers of “on edge” or “new” fiction should go out of their way to read. I’ll stop with the classifications now, “what’s the point”?

The shards of the broken mirror are scattered, don’t expect a non-corrugated journey, these shards scattered like heavenly bodies, like “uncut diamonds scattered about on a large table at the polishing workshop”, but “however you put it, the shards of things too are whole in their way.”

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Signs Preceding the End of the World – Yuri Herrera (translated by Lisa Dillman) – Best Translated Book Award 2016

There are a plethora of reviews available about this Best Translated Book Award winning novel, all talking about the “crossing to the other side” from Mexico to the United States, transition, displacement, and of course the language. Whilst I’ll comment on these factors later, I am going to focus my review on the title of the book, “Signs Preceding the End Of The World”…who else as a better sign for this decay and possible destruction than Donald Trump?
Recent articles came out talking about how great a company we built, and now we want to put that same ability into doing something for our nation. I mean, our nation is in serious trouble. We’re being chilled on trade, absolutely destroyed. China is just taking advantage of us. I have nothing against China. I have great respect for China, but their leaders are too smart for our leaders. Our leaders don’t have a clue and the trade deficits at $400 billion and $500 are too much. No country can sustain that kind of trade deficit. It won’t be that way for long. We have the greatest business leaders in the world on my team already and, believe me, we’re going to redo those trade deals and it’s going to be a thing of beauty.
You look at countries like Mexico, where they’re killing us on the border, absolutely destroying us on the border. They’re destroying us in terms of economic development. Companies like Carrier Air Conditioner just moving into Mexico. Ford, moving into Mexico. Nabisco, closing up shop in Chicago and moving into Mexico. We have to stop it, folks. I know how to stop it. We’re going to create jobs. We’re going to create jobs like you’ve never seen….
…It looked, literally, like the Academy Awards. I never saw so many cameras in my life. And it takes courage to run. I’ll tell you what, it takes a lot of courage to run for president. I’ve never done this before. I’ve been a job-producer. I’ve done a lot of things but this is something I’ve never done, but I felt we had to do it. When you look at the incompetence of the Iran deal, where we give $150 billion, we get absolutely nothing. When you look at all of the problems our country has and you look at our military, which is really being depleted rapidly, depleted. We’re going to make our military bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and nobody, nobody, nobody is going to mess with us, folks, nobody…
…Well, look, everything — we are going to have a wall. I can tell you we are going to have a wall. I watched the ex-president of Mexico, the arrogance of this man. And I get along great with Hispanics. You saw in Nevada, I won in the poll, the Hispanic vote. I have thousands of people that work for me right now that are Hispanic. I’ve had thousands and thousands over my lifetime. These are great people. The Mexican leaders are too smart for our leaders and you saw it. Vincente Fox, first of all, he used a word that you should never have — if I ever used that word you folks would’ve never, ever, ever let me get away with it. Nobody even talked about the word he used and this is the ultimate word. But he was angry at the concept of somebody saying that they were going to pay for the wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall. We have a trade deficit with Mexico of $58 billion a year — $58 billion. The wall is going to cost $10 billion. It’s so easy. I’ve had these guys that I’m on the stage with go you don’t really mean Mexico is going to pay for the wall. One — as sure as you’re standing there, 100 percent, Mexico’s going to pay, 100 percent…
… So when you think of it — and then they say you’ll never be able to build a wall. Well, it’s 2,000 miles but we really need 1,000 miles. The Great Wall of China, built 2,000 years ago, is 13,000 miles, folks, and they didn’t have Caterpillar tractors, because I only want to use Caterpillar, if you want to know the truth, or John Deere. I buy a lot of equipment from John Deere. I love John Deere, too. But they didn’t have tractors. They didn’t have cranes. They didn’t have excavation equipment. The wall is 13,000 miles long. We need 1,000 miles and we have all of the materials. We can do that so beautifully. And this is going to be a serious wall. This is going to be high wall. This is going to be a very serious wall.
We’re going to stop drugs from coming into New Hampshire. You know, when I won New Hampshire, those people were so incredible to me. And when you go, you wouldn’t believe it because it’s so bucolic, so beautiful. You look at the fields and you look at everything, it’s so beautiful. And yet, you go to a meeting in New Hampshire, their number one problem, their number one problem is heroine. The heroine is pouring in and they have so many of their young people and other people addicted. And I told them I’m going to stop it. I’m going to stop it. We’re going to have a strong border, and I mean strong.
Transcript of highlights from Donald Trump’s Super Tuesday speech March 2016
Donald may well build a wall, but here in Yuri Herrera’s world it is the underground that is focus, no high wall is going to stop the underground!
Our novel opens with a sinkhole appearing, everything is being sucked into the underworld, a result of the endless “voracious silver lust” and, of course, bullet holes. “The world happening anew” is populated by our heroine, in Mexico (we assume, only because of the language and the setting…an oh the back cover), who needs to get to the US (another assumption) to retrieve her brother from the Promised Land. “I don’t know what you think you lost but you ain’t going to find it here, there was nothing here to begin with.”
Our heroine is Makina, and she assisted in her crossing by four mysterious shady characters:
Double U, he is housed in a sauna, “a longing for water led her to the steam where he spent his time”, described as “All pale roundness furrowed with tiny blue veins”.
Aitch is housed at “Pulquería Raskolnikova” (the mother of the protagonist in Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’!!!) he’s dressed in a “bird-print shirt and glimmering gold…playing dominoes with three of his thugs.” When Makina enters the room he “smiled, sinister, with all the artlessness of a snake disguised as a man coiling around your legs”
Here came the hustle. Mr. Aitch was the type who couldn’t see a mule without wanting a ride. Mr. Aitch smiled and smiled, but he was still a reptile in pants. Who knew what the deal was with this heavy and her mother. She knew they weren’t speaking, but put it down to his top-dog hubris. Someone had spread that he and Cora were related, someone else that they had a hatchet to bury, though she’d never asked, because if Cora hadn’t told her it was for a reason. But Makina could smell evil in the air. Here came the hustle.
Q spends all day at the Casino restaurant where he can “read the papers alone at a table in the dining room” “dressed in black from neck to toe;…a perfect white cup of black coffee” nearby.
And finally (on the other side) Makina meets P, he is surrounded by “ten or fifteen or thirty” men, “all black but some blacker than others, some sinewy as if they’d grown up in mountain air, others puffy like aquatic animals, many bald but a few with long matted hair down to their waists.” P walks with a limp, “blazing blond hair was streaked with orange highlights, he held a cigar in one hand and wore mirrored shades.”

Are these guys the four horsemen of the apocalypse? Conquest or Plague, War, Famine and Death, or in Spanish Conquista or Plaga, Guerra, Hambruna and Muerte. Or are they the Grief, Anxiety, Diseases and Old Age who live at the entrance to the Greek underworld? Maybe they are related to Aztec underworld (more in a minute). Or are they red-herrings? I do know they are considered from the “underworld”.
Signs prohibiting things thronged the streets, leading citizens to see themselves as ever protected, safe, friendly, innocent, proud, and intermittently bewildered, blithe, and buoyant; salt of the only earth worth knowing. They flourished in supermarkets, cornucopias where you could have more than everyone else or something different or a newer brand or a loaf of bread a little bigger than everyone else’s.
There are many journeys into the underworld, literally and figuratively. And this work demands rereading, are the characters linked to Hades, Persephone, Hermes, Charon (there is a water crossing from Mexico into the USA Chucho assisting Makina across is he the ferryman?), Styx (is this the river they’re crossing?), Cerberus – so many references, so little time.

There are nine chapters here and they are aligned to the Earth and eight of the nine levels of the Aztec underworld:

1 – The Earth (Earth)
2 – The Water Crossing (River and Yellow Dog)
3 – The Place Where Hills Meet (Two Mountains)
4 – The Obsidian Mound (Obsidian Mountain)
5 – The Place where the Wind Cuts Like A Knife (Bitter Wind)
6 – The Place Where Flags Wave (Banners)
7 – The Place Where People’s Hearts are Eaten (Arrows)
8 – The Snake That Lies In Wait (Wild Beast)
9 – The Obsidian Place With No Windows or Holes for the Smoke (Narrow Place)

The missing ninth level of the Aztec Underworld is “Soul at Rest” – read into that what you will.

Peppered with so many treasured quotes, this is a treasure trove of reading, a work that could be read numerous times and the layers and understanding would continually peel back, from “The Place Where Hills Meet”;
First there was nothing. Nothing but a frayed strip of cement over the white earth. Then she made out two mountains colliding in the back of beyond: like they’d come from who knows where and were headed to anyone’s guess but had come together at that intense point in the nothingness and insisted on crashing noisily against each other, though the obvious might think they simply stood there in silence.
With poetic language that rolls along, you have wonderful use of words, the oft quoted example being “verse” being used as a verb in place of “reverse”, “traverse”, “converse”, however it still retains its poetic definition.
With a black and white cover that suits the dark layers of this work, I could replicate the multiple reviews about language, culture displacement, melding of languages etc, however it suited my reading a lot more to focus on the subterranean musings and actions, with holes, labyrinths and caverns a plenty, this could be read as a blend of Dante’s “Inferno”, Greek Mythology, with a dash of Lewis Carroll, and even a smidgin of the Cohen’s Brother’s under-rated “O Brother Where Art Thou”, but that would show Western ignorance of Mayan or Aztec culture, personally I am ignorant of such, however given the chapter references and the travel through the underworld I think another reread may be in order!!!
Deserved winner of the Best Translated Book Award and disappointing the United Kingdom judges didn’t see fit to include this book on the Man Booker International Prize, it would have given the winner (Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”) a real run for its money, if I had read this earlier I would have asked the Shadow Jury to add it to the blend.
If you like the books I review here (and I’m tipping a few of you do, otherwise why do you keep coming back?), this is one to add to your reading pile.
Just keep your fingers crossed the “signs preceding the end of the world” I have included as an introduction here do not come to fruition.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

The Physics of Sorrow – Georgi Gospodinov (translated by Angela Rodel) – Best Translated Book Award 2016

Can “My Little Pony”, a Yugoslavian living in the Netherlands, and modern Bulgarian literature have something in common? Let’s see if I can start with the Yugoslav living in the Netherlands, move through an animated children’s television program, and travel through a novel shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Enter my labyrinth, let’s hope there’s not too many dead ends.
In our contemporary society – which is highly homogenized by the global marketplace – intellectual and artistic heresy is like oxygen. Globalized culture sucks that oxygen from our mental landscape. The global marketplace pretends that it offers us a diversity of products but in fact sells us the powerful substitute of the holy ONE. Today, we get one “subversive” philosopher, one“subversive” artist, and onesubversive “writer”: the global market can’t bare more than one! In other words, we get one Coca-Cola, but we believe that by consuming it we consume the whole world. Celebs are our modern prophets, whether they sell the photos of their impressive posteriors, like Kim Kardashian, or the seductive theories, like Slavoj Žižek, or millions of their books, like Haruki Murakami. I don’t have anything against Kim Kardashian or, God forbid, against the great Slavoj Žižek, or my fellow writer Haruki Murakami, but the holy ONE policy (created, ultimately, by consumers themselves) is a quite obvious sign of a society homogenizing its tastes and needs. That’s why many cultural “species” (forms, patterns, genres, practices, ideas, and cultural spaces) are disappearing. The global market standardizes our tastes, our intellectual and cultural needs. In the result, we all read one book, one Bible, one Koran, we all follow one “prophet”; we all wait in long lines to buy a new book by onewriter, or in line to see the exhibition of one artist. There is a market pressure to love Him, to buy Him, and as we live in a religious world, we like to establish our modern “prophets” (in visual art, the entertainment industry, literature, film, etc.). And then we like them and respect them because everybody else likes and respects them…
Taken from “A Conversation with Dubravka Ugrešić” by Daniel Medin.
Published in “Music & Literature” Number 6
Given the history of the Minotaur in literature, you would think another work using the mythological beast as a metaphor would fit the contemporary society overflow. A writer with limited coverage in the English speaking world would not fit the profile of a “modern prophet”.
If you google the Minotaur and “popular culture” the results are astounding, wresting, anime, Batman, Doctor Who, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, Dexter, Power Rangers, Time Bandits, Inspector Gadget, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, Borges, Kubrick’s “The Shining” video games, manga, even My Little Pony.
Not every reader has studied Classical Greek Mythology, and I’m fairly confident children watching “My Little Pony” and coming across a character called “Iron Will”, half bull, half pony, who puts on an “assertiveness” seminar in a hedge maze would have no idea of the references.
For those interested in seeking out the “My Little Pony” reference it is season 2, episode 19 “Putting Your Hoof Down”, written by long term SpongeBob Square pants writer Merriwether Williams (credited with 47 episodes of SpongeBob) from a story by Charlotte Fullerton. A full stream of the “My Little Pony” episode is available on line. In the episode, besides a Minotaur in a hedge maze we have Fluttershy pony becoming ashamed of her newly learned assertiveness and being locked in a dark room. When pressed by other polite ponies about her behaviour she yells; “Iron Will is not a monster, he’s a MINOTAUR.”
In the basement of the palace in Crete, Daedalus built a labyrinth of such confounding galleries that once you went inside it you could never find the exit again. Minos locked up his family’s shame, his wife Pasiphaē’s son, in this underground labyrinth. She conceived this son by a bull send by the god Poseidon. The Minotaur – a monster with a human body and a bull’s head. Every nine years the Athenians were forced to send seven maidens and seven youths to be devoured by him. Then the hero Theseus appeared, who decided to kill the Minotaur. Without her father’s knowledge, Ariadne gave Theseus a sharp sword and a ball of string. He tied the string to the entrance and set off down the endless corridors to hunt the Minotaur. He walked and walked until he suddenly heard a terrible roar – the monster was rushing toward him with its enormous horns. A frightful battle ensued. Finally, Theseus grabbed the Minotaur by the horns and plunged his sharp sword into his chest. The monster slumped to the ground and Theseus dragged him all the way back to the entrance.
          Ancient Greek Myths and Legends
Georgi Gospodinov’s book “The Physics of Sorrow” sides with the fate of the Minotaur, he argues that he is merely a victim, he had no choice in being born and banished to the underground, he had to eat, and he was trapped in a labyrinth. Why do the majority of references identify the Minotaur as a monster?
As well as the Minotaur, the labyrinth has also featured heavily in popular culture and not just in literature, in fact there have been thesis’ written on the subject of labyrinths and literature, one I found on-line quoting Umberto Eco, (of course Ovid), Friedrich Nietzsche, Jorge Luis Borges, on the opening pages. I’m not even going to address the labyrinth and popular culture…video games, maze runners, it’s endless.
“No one realised that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.” Victor Pelevin
But Georgi Gospodinov’s work is so much more than a design around the labyrinth motif and the Minotaur as a metaphor. A collection of short personalised views, vignettes, stories, rambling paragraphs, it is a work not easily defined, the deciphering is akin to solving a cryptic crossword, but the resultant challenge and enlightenment, once you find your way through his labyrinth of dead ends, is a very rewarding journey indeed.
Opening with a “prologue” defining seven versions of “I” (1913, 1968, always, never, not yet, 1944 and enduring nature) noting the “seven” definitions, the number of victims sent to the Minotaur, and the specific years, two preceding the two world wars and the other the year Bulgarian forces participated in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Later in the novel you will also learn of other important references to the relative years, or time periods. Each and every page contains a wealth of information that may be worth researching, or it may be just a contribution to Gospodinov’s collection of junk, a dead end in the labyrinth.
Once you get a little deeper into the book you discover that the narrator is in fact Georgi Gospodinov himself and we find that he has the ability to inhabit other people’s memories, the stories of his family, his friendships, at times the tales are written in the first-person, at other times in the third person.
I write in the first person to make sure that I’m still alive.
I write in the third person to make sure that I’m not just a projection of my own self, that I’m three-dimensional and have a body. Sometimes I nudge a glass and note with satisfaction that it falls and breaks. So I do still exist and cause consequences.
This family structure is a labyrinth itself, he inhabits his grandfather’s experiences, who was accidentally left behind at the flour mill, during World War One, as a three-year-old. We have the same grandfather visiting the fair, again alone, with a “fiver” which he uses to visit a Minotaur “there is sorrow in him, which no animal possesses.”
Just as the Minotaur is abandoned, has no childhood, lives in sorrow, this is a “novel” that explores human abandonment, the absence of childhood, and of course, as the title suggests, sorrow, the reader is led through the deep caverns (labyrinth) of the author’s mind. There are numerous times and experiences divulged, we have the exploration of growing up in Communist Bulgaria, the boredom, the absence of children, the television programs (propaganda), the training, even the sexual awakening in a repressed society. We have the author himself being exiled, or is it somebody he inhabits?
Let’s wait here for the souls of distracted readers. Somebody could have gotten lost in the corridors of these different times. Did everyone come back from the war? How about from the fair in 1925? Let’s hope we didn’t forget anyone at the mill. So where shall we set out for now? Writers shouldn’t ask such questions, but as the most hesitant and unsure among them, I’ll take that liberty. Shall we turn toward the story of the father, or continue on ahead, which in this case is backward, toward the Minotaur of childhood…I can’t offer a linear story, because no labyrinth and no story is ever linear. Are we all here? Off we go again.
Later in the novel Gospodinov becomes a purveyor of stories, within these stories he can create a childhood, he can reject abandonment, a true storyteller is one who can inhabit another’s thoughts. The labyrinth becomes less dark.
“The Physics of Sorrow” is littered with quotable quotes, philosophical observations about our planet, our very beings, as you read them you wonder, ‘is this another dead end to the labyrinth?’, however, as a whole the collection comes to a crescendo, the final clues of the cryptic puzzle fall into place, the fact that this is indeed a rare gem comes to the fore. Yes it may be a rough unpolished gem in places, that doesn’t mean it is any less precious.
There is also a hilarious, but true, section on the banality of the question “How are you?” and the phobia our writer has for being asked such, a listing of the clichéd replies, a la ‘fine thanks’, ‘hanging in there’, ‘getting by’ and a further listing of the available answers to the question. My personal favourite from the list is “I’m not”.
Experimental in style, moving through myth, fact, fiction, meta-fiction, philosophy, photographs (there are some included as well as artworks) and even noises, this is not a book for those who want a straightforward narrative style. Given the limited media coverage for this work, although being shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award will help, this wonderful book risks being another victim of our “homogenized contemporary society”. To me a work which explores the limits of fiction, another “subversive” writer I am glad the Best Translated Book Award has introduced me to.
Who knows, maybe one day there will no longer be Literature. Instead there will be literary web sites. Like those stars, still shining but long dead, the web sites will testify to the existence of past writers. There will be quotes, fragments of texts, which prove that there used to be complete texts once. Instead of readers there will be cyber space travelers who will stumble upon the websites by chance and stop for a moment to gaze at them. How they will read them? Like hieroglyphs? As we read the instructions for a dishwasher today? Or like remnants of a strange communication that meant something in the past, and was called Literature?

Taken from the Home Page of Dubravka Ugrešić’s website http://www.dubravkaugresic.com/

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

The Story of the Lost Child – Elena Ferrante (translated by Anne Goldstein) – Man Booker International Prize 2016 and Best Translated Book Award 2016

Today I’m looking at a book that has made both the Man Booker International Prize shortlist and the Best Translated Book Award shortlist for 2016, a novel I read on its release back in September 2015, Elena Ferrante’s “The Story Of The Lost Child” (translated by Ann Goldstein).
I am going to imagine a situation, I am a reader, I want to try something from a well-known prize shortlist, I want something by a female writer, something European, Ferrante it is (I could choose “Murder Most Serene” by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie, but that’s highly unlikely, Ferrante is the only qualifier under the “female, European” criteria on both lists, Wittkop not being eligible for the Man Booker and therefore not on the list). I am surprised, the local bookshop has quite a few copies, must be a good book, I’m not even going to read the back cover, it may influence my purchasing decision, that’s it, mind is made up, cash changes hands, I’m now the proud owner of a “literary” work from Italy. Can’t wait to snuggle down and read it…
I seem to recall somebody at the book club mentioning this anonymous Italian writer, something about “Ferrante Fever”. Being a strong anti-vaccine activist, I haven’t received my inoculations to stop the malaise hitting me, but with a pretty solid immune system I’m very confident that although some symptoms may appear, I will not succumb to a full blown fever, I’ve read four volumes (and am about to start a fifth) of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s personal struggle, if that didn’t give me night sweats and fatigue I’m fairly confident a publicity shy Italian will carry no germs.
The first pages have an “Index of Characters”, we start off with the “Cerullo family (the shoemaker’s family), Raffaella Cerullo, called Lina, or Lila. She was born in August 1944, and is sixty-six when she disappears from Naples without a trace. At the age of sixteen, she married Stefano Carracci, but during a vacation on Ischia she falls in love with Nino Sarratore, for whom she leaves her husband. After the disastrous end of her relationship with Nino, the birth of her son Gennaro (also called Rino), and the discovery that Stefano is expecting a child with Ada Cappuccio, Lila leaves him definitively. She moves with Enzo Scanno to San Giovanni a Teduccio, but several years later she returns to the neighbourhood with Enzo and Gennaro.”
WHAT? “The neighbourhood”? What neighbourhood? Who are these people? She disappears without a trace? When? If so why is she in this book? Who is Enzo?
Damn this list of people, I’m going to start reading it.
Okay, the first page and a half we have Lila, Nino, Dede and Elsa (the sentence introducing them reads “In reality, what mattered more than that offense was the mention of Dede and Elsa.”), Marcello Solara, Gennaro, Stefano and then it spirals a few more pages with some bloke called Pietro turning up.
I better go back to the list of characters….no joy…back to the book.
Nino goes to Naples, Lena to Florence, but who is Adele in Milan?
Let’s face it the foundations, the very core has been laid in the previous three works, well and truly before you even open this book.
Yes, of course, it is a measured opening here, it is slowly reintroducing us to the people, reminding us of the affair Lena is having, re-establishing the various cities and their significance and of course we need to be reminded of the influence that Lila plays over Lena’s life.
But in my opinion, the whole scenario is bizarre – how can this book be up for these awards? The book, to a new reader, makes no sense, who are these people? Maybe the back cover would help you out, give you an idea of what is going on….WHAT, it is just reviews?? Ohhh it’s on the front cover “The Fourth and Final Neapolitan Novel”? Why didn’t anybody tell me? 
I know I would probably be living in a cave not to know this is part of a series, but I’m trying to make a point okay?!?
I know this rambling is not really a review of Ferrante’s latest per se, however what is the point of adding yet another view to the plethora of opinions that are out in cyberspace? It wouldn’t count for much at all, if anything. This rant is merely my opinion as to the merits of this work winning either the Man Booker International Prize or the Best Translated Book Award. Neither of these prizes is given for a body of work (although the Man Booker International Prize was for a body of work, not a specific book, prior to this year, it is no longer the case). As a standalone novel I was seriously disappointed that it made either list, let alone both. Is this on these lists as a consolation for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize ignoring the first three instalments? Or the Best Translated Book Award feeling guilty that the opener in the series “My Brilliant Friend” was completely overlooked and the following two, although being shortlisted, were beaten by László Krasznahorkai (“Seiobo There Below”) and Can Xu (“The Last Lover”)?
Let’s face it, book number four is going to be bought by people who have read numbers 1-3, number four is going to be liked by people who have already read 1,200 pages about Lena and Lila, it’s a conclusion, people like closure, they’ll feel as though they’ve lost a friend but they’ve gained an experience.
Let’s have a look at the Goodreads reviews of the Ferrante fever:
“My Brilliant Friend” – average 3.9 from 35,557 ratings (30% are 5 star)
“The Story of a New Name” – average 4.4 from 15,305 ratings (52% are 5 star)
“Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” – average 4.32 from 11,401 ratings (48% are 5 star)
“The Story of the Lost Child” – average 4.42 from 9,149 ratings (56% are 5 star)
Number of ratings decreasing, as you would expect whilst people make their way through the books, and of course there will always be people who drop off the bandwagon along the way, but the ratings themselves are increasing the further people get into the works. Another interesting point is the lowest average scores come for the first novel, a work people may have tried and decided to go no further, only adding fuel to the fire that a score will increase the further you travel along the series journey, only diehards are going to read 1,600 pages.
Personally I did not enjoy the third in the series anywhere near as much as the first two (my review here reflected that) http://messybooker.blogspot.com.au/2014/12/those-who-leave-and-those-who-stay.htmland this feeling carried over to “The Story of The Lost Child”, although I did think it was much stronger than “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay”. Having struggled with writing a review for this book when the reading public has the fever, with four books all in the best seller lists, I’ve resigned myself to just presenting my view that as a standalone novel this book should not be on the award shortlists. You watch it win both.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

War, So Much War – Mercè Rodoreda (translated by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent) – Best Translated Book Award 2016

I have spent the last couple of months getting through the United Kingdom based Man Booker International prize longlist, but at the same time I had one eye looking sideways at the emerging titles on the United States based Best Translated Book Award. The Man Booker International Prize announced a longlist of thirteen titles on 10 March, and trimmed the list to six on 14 April, giving avid readers five weeks to get through their list. Meanwhile the Best Translated Book Award announces a fiction longlist of twenty-five titles, they did so this year on 29 March and their shortlist consists of ten books which they announced 21 days after the longlist!!! Three weeks to get through twenty-five books, methinks not. I think a longer period between the two announcements would elicit more discussion, more reading, more sales (for example there are eight works on the longlist that I haven’t read and which did not make the shortlist, with a longer timeframe there is a very good chance I would have read those books, with piles of unread books stacking up around me there is a very much reduced chance that I will go out of my way and hunt these eight books down).
A couple of the books shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award were already on my “to be read” pile, “The Physics of Sorrow” by Georgi Gospodinov (translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel) and “War, So Much War” by Mercè Rodoreda (translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent), as a result of my subscription to Open Letter books. Congratulations to them for publishing two titles that are deemed representative enough to make such a prestigious shortlist.
Mercè Rodoreda’s “War, So Much War” is set during the Spanish Civil War, however if you are after a traditional “war” story, or revelations from a Catalan point of view about the events of the Spanish Civil War, then I suggest you look elsewhere.
This book has forty-three chapters, each a small poignant, matter of fact vignette, written in the first person, with our narrator/protagonist being Adrià Guinart, a young boy “born at midnight, in the autumn of the year, with a birthmark on” his “forehead no bigger than a lentil.”
The house was ancient, the sink had a terrible stench, the faucet leaked. On windy days the cold crept in through the cracks, but in good weather the smell of flowers permeated every corner. On the Sundays when my father wasn’t of a mind to visit his cousins, he would take me for a walk. We spent hours sitting by the side of the road, and sometimes the air winnowed threads from the hearts of stunted flowers, and some would catch in my clothes. It seemed to me that people were all the same: with legs, with thighs, with eyes, mouths, teeth. I walked along, straight as a ninepin, holding the hand of my father who was tall and very good. I don’t know why I resented girls; if I ever got my hands on one, I would wring her neck like you would a bird’s. They exhaust motherly love.
As the announcement of the breakout of war reaches Adrià, he decides to run away from his family home, a carnation growing farm on the outskirts of Barcelona, half committing to joining the war, half simply joining other boys, his “coming of age” search from individuality, freedom. He spends the rest of our novel escaping, or running from, the war, and wandering from one fantastical adventure to the next.
With elements of dark fairy tales and a feeling that there is a parallel to Homer’s “Odyssey” (more on that later) each vignette reveals a little more of Adrià’s fears, hopes, dreams.
The novel is a blend of numerous influences. We have Biblical references, “They know not what they do”, and stigmata makes an appearance.  Mystical references, for example Chapter IV is titled “The Hanged Man, is this a reference to the Tarot Card? Martyrdom? Suspension in time? A sacrifice for the greater good? Or is our narrator, by running away from home, breaking old patterns of behaviour and restrictive bad habits? Or is it simply a tale about a man who is hanging from a tree branch?
There are also messages of hope, a bright future;
Soon, even more shell-hued than the previous night’s moon, the new day awoke to eyes that have never tired of seeing the tenderness it brings.
There is a never ending cast of characters who enter Adrià’s circle and then simply disappear as he moves on to another adventure. We have Narcisa, the female form of Narcissus, derived from ναρκη (narke) meaning “sleep, numbness”, appearing as the wife of a man who cannot help but fall asleep all the time, he is a “cyclops” of sorts, a one eyed man:
A man came and stretched out beside me. He was portly and his skin glistened as if it had been smeared with lard. He folded his hands over his bellow. I could only see one of this eyes, beneath an eyebrow with hairs thicker than esparto. The eye studied me, then quickly closed, only to open again slowly.
Wonderfully rich characters who all have influences on Adrià’s development. The novel is broken into three parts and at the end of Part One Adrià is living/hiding with Pere Ardèvol, a man who contemplates the sea and spends many hours looking into a mirrow, “each person is the mirror of the entire universe.” When Pere dies he leaves his full estate to Adrià on the condition that he shred and burn all of his documents. Adrià reads them and this leads us to Part Two of the novel.
Part Two includes dream sequences, a repetition of events that Adrià himself has recently experienced when he came to Pere’s farm but events that Pere himself experienced when he was younger. “Under what conditions can one become another?” As is my usual want here I won’t reveal any more of the plot…
This is a novel packed with riddles, parables, dark tales and a cast of characters too numerous to mention. We have a wanderer who walks with his back to the moon and sun so he can keep his shadow company, a moon-shaped man, and naked nymphs in the reeds with pitchforks, young girls on the beach tossing an orange, girls who are afraid of the waves. All presented in a rich, descriptive language:
The henhouse was at the back of the vegetable garden. I crept toward it, life a wolf stealing through the artichokes. A hen was clucking like made, I would eat her egg. The frightened fowl stood over her nest, legs deep in the straw, staring at me. The egg tasted like hazelnuts. Three more hens, still as death, craned their necks forward as they perched on their nests. Their wattles dropped, their combs drooped, they were old hens, has laid many eggs, marched little chicks around. I heard the sound of a slamming door coming from the direction of the house, followed by the squeak of a pulley. The egg had made me hungry. I left the vegetable garden. There wasn’t a village in sight. I was surrounded by fields. I was suddenly struck by a flash of sadness, and I shook it off in a hurry. Somehow, I would find what I needed. I continued on my way, slit-eyed, blinded by a sun that had a deeper yolk color than the egg I had just swallowed. I was walking in the bright sunlight, my mind on other things, when I tripped and fell, bloodying my knee. The blood was red, redder than a red carnation, redder than the drooping combs of those golden hens.
Multi layered and with a depth that demands re-reading and exploring in detail, this is a complex, but at the same time thoroughly readable, work. Drawing on myth, Christian icons, medieval, and classical characters, Mercè Rodoreda’s final novel was so enjoyable, I will be hunting down further translated works from her bibliography. In fact I have already committed to reading two via my “Classics Club” list of fifty classic translated books.
Another wonderful Catalan work that was published last year was “Life Embitters” by Josep Pla (translated by Peter Roland Bush) published by Archipelago Books, a very large collection of short stories, over 600 pages worth, which is written in a more “straight forward” narrative style if you would like to explore Catalan Literature outside of this dark and frolicking work.
A worthy entrant on the Best Translated Book Award shortlist, one I thoroughly enjoyed, a tale of a wandering young boy, observing the war around him, meeting so many characters he simply has to become a man:
I enjoyed nothing more than wandering throughout the world lost. Doing as I please no matter how things turned out, with no one giving me any advice. Seeing the sky, the forests, experiencing fear, contemplating the night and it having a roof.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

The Story Of My Teeth – Valeria Luiselli (translated by Christina MacSweeney) – Best Translated Book Award 2016

The teeth are the true windows to the soul; they are the tabula rasa The teeth are the true windows to the soul; they are the tabula rasa on which all our vices and all our virtues are inscribed.
Last year Valeria Luiselli was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award for her novel “Faces In The Crowd” (translated by Christina MacSweeney) and she backs up with a further shortlisting in 2016 for “The Story of My Teeth” (also translated by Christina MacSweeney). A few days ago I wrote about young female writers, pushing traditional literature’s boundaries, and Luiselli definitely sits in that boat.
In the Afterwordto this work, our author explains that the book is the result of several collaborations. Working with a serial novel style (a la Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers”), Luiselli released low-budget chapbooks for distribution to factory workers in a juice factory, and a reading club was established. Recording the worker’s discussions about the chapbooks, their insights and discussions dictated the course of the narrative for future instalments. As Luiselli says “The result of these shared concerns is this collective “novel-essay” about the production of value and meaning in contemporary art and literature.”
Our story opens with Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, or ‘Highway’, our protagonist narrator, telling us of his obsession with collecting, from his father’s finger nail clippings, drinking straws given to him by an unfaithful wife, rubber bands and paper clips from his desk job at a juice factory, to collecting courses for managing possible staff crises?
You are hooked from the first page, here are the opening two paragraphs:
I’m the best Auctioneer in the world, but no one knows it because I’m a discreet sort of man. My name is Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, though people call me Highway, I believe with affection. I can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums. I can interpret Chinese fortune cookies. I can stand an egg upright on a table, the way Christopher Columbus did in the famous anecdote. I know how to count to eight in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi. I can float on my back.
This is the story of my teeth, and my treatise on collectibles and the variable value of objects. As any other story, this one begins with the Beginning; and then comes the Middle, and then the End. The rest, as a friend of mine always says, is literature: hyperbolics, parabolics, circulars, allegorics, and elliptics. I don’t know what comes after that. Possibly ignominy, death, and, finally, post-mortem fame. At that point it will no longer be my place to say anything in the first person. I will be a dead man, a happy, enviable man.
Our narrator becomes an auctioneer and learns that “there are four types of auctions: circular, elliptical, parabolic and hyperbolic.” These names become the names of the books in our novel, along with “The Story (Beginning, Middle End)”, “The Allegorics”, see literature construction above, and “The Chronologic”, which is actually a section added by the translator, in the theme of being a truly collaborative piece, with a timeline of Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez’s life aligned to significant (?) literary and art events (for example, 2004Posthumous publication of Uruguayan author Mario Levrero’s La novela luminoso, which includes a 450-pahe prologue recounting how the writer spent the grant awarded to him by the Guggenheim Foundation. Or March 2012 – New York-based artist Ugo Rondinone curates an exhibition that includes Hans Schärer’s Madonna, in which the teeth are replaced by yellowing pebbles.) For the real literature nuts – Mario Levrero’s novel has not been translated into English, but it is referenced in Andrés Neuman’s “Talking To Oursleves”.
Each “book” within the novel opens with a fortune cookie quote and a circular conundrum of an epigraph, adding to the many layers contained here.
For sheer reading joy the work is absolutely peppered with quotable gems;
It’s a mystery why all female Mediterranean bodies look like eggplants after the age of fifty.

That’s politicians for you, clergy included: their heads are so full of themselves that they aren’t the least bit curious about other people’s lives.

I’ve got an unparalleled talent for resignation, like all Catholic men.

Find photos of all the writers you respect, and you’ll see that their teeth remain a permanently occult mystery. This is in reference to respected writer’s never showing their teeth (noting Luiselli’s photo on the back inner sleeve shows no teeth)
This is a novel that references numerous writers, numerous artists, well read, or art fans will find many sections they can revel in;
What auctioneers auction, in the end, are just names of people, and maybe words. All I do is give them new content.
Is that what Luiselli is doing here? With the numerous references, epigraphs about language or words or the nonexistence of language relationships, containing conundrums, the metaphysics of words, is she giving old words and themes “new content”? Is she selling the unsellable? Is this a story that already exists?
A many layered work, a pleasure to read, a celebration of both the art world and the written word, there is no simple way to describe the book, other than to recommend readers of translated books to get a copy and revel in its joy. I do know of a number of fellow bloggers who were less than enthused about this book, maybe comparing it to her “Faces In The Crowd”, but for me, it read easily, it brought a smile to my face, it had enough ambiguity and “puzzles” to keep me thinking, in other words it satiated the main reading pleasures.
What could be more poignant than yet another quote from this amazing work? All the parameters we normally use to measure our actions seem trivial.
As our author said in her own words, this is a “novel-essay” about the production value and meaning in contemporary art and literature. In my opinion, a highly rated and enjoyable novel that I think is in with a fighting chance of collecting the Best Translated Book Award main gong, not having read the full shortlist it could be a bit premature to make that statement but I have it towards the top of the pile from the ones I have read.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide